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The Great Escape: Gene-Altered Crops Grow Wild

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Genetic Engineering page, Millions Against Monsanto page, and our North Dakota News page.
Throughout North Dakota, little yellow flowers dot thousands of miles of roadsides. These canola plants, found along most major trucking routes, look harmless. But they are fueling a controversy: They prove that large numbers of genetically modified plants have escaped from farm fields and are now growing wild.

About 80 percent of canola growing along roadsides in North Dakota contains genes that have been modified to make the plants resistant to common weed-killers, according to a team of University of Arkansas researchers.

The discovery of escaped gene-altered canola has some experts concerned that it could lead to herbicide-resistant "super weeds" that farmers would have difficulty controlling. Also, the plants could be moving onto the fields of organic farmers. In Australia, one farmer who lost his organic certification has sued his neighbor, saying genetically modified canola contaminated his organic crops.

"Canola is really the poster child of transgene escape at the moment," says Norman Ellstrand, a plant geneticist at the University of California, Riverside.

Transgenes are pieces of genetic code that are placed in an organism during genetic engineering. They confer some trait that the organism wouldn't normally have - in this case, resistance to a commonly used herbicide.

In the United States, nearly all canola, which is used to make animal feed and canola oil, an ingredient in many foods, has genes inserted in it.


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